Pototo y Filomeno are the crown jewel of comedy in Cuba. My mother's family, who brought me up, was a deadly serious bunch whom, growing up, I seldom witnessed sharing so much as a smile let alone a laugh out loud. So it was a revelation to me when as a toddler I discovered my very dignified & proper grandfather all alone hunched over a shoebox radio at the back of the house one evening laughing himself as silly as the best human being out there! There was an ancient giant radio in the living room, but he seemed as unwilling to let himself go like that in front of the family as other men are to cry at emotional scenes in a crowded theater, so there he was all by himself laughing his head off--But he allowed me to join him. And so, from my earliest days I made my acquaintance of the early evening 15 minute shows that was Pototo y Filomeno's La Tremenda Corte... a mixture of semi-scripted [by that true comedic genius writer Cástor Vispo], and mostly unimaginably hilarious improvisation by some of the best improvisers in the entire history of that art).
Being a radio program, La Tremenda Corte consisted almost entirely of linguistic mischaracterizations of terms & phrases, meanings, and intentionally misleading bad intentions. A true example of the highest form of the theater of the absurd in which the same shady character was brought before the same judge charged by the same accusers for a different offense every night regardless of how long a sentence the judge imposed on him just a few nights before.
Listening to La Tremenda Corte with my grandfather I went from laughing at utterly incomprehensible dialogues in sympathy with him to an increasingly deeper grasp of the subtleties of meanings available to the Spanish language (not to mention a love for poems, vocabulary, jargon & the vernacular, alliteration, double-meanings, and almost every aspect of speech--above all, those that provoked laughter. La Tremenda Corte was & remains to this day just by itself a delicious little study (at least in the Spanish tongue) of the love for the full possibilities of linguistic expression carried on into actual practice.
The program lasted nonstop from 1942 to 1961. Over 360 shows are estimated to have been recorded, of which only a handful of the very last ones made were smuggled out by someone who worked at the La Habana radio station (those are the only ones currently heard the world over). Little is known about the episodes which were left behind--They remain Cuba's true hidden treasure, the gold of legend, certain to bring glory to whoever unearths them to the greater glory of the Spanish-speaking world. My grandfather died in 1956 and therefore those episodes I listened to with him never made it out of Cuba, if they still exist there.
La Tremenda Corte ended abruptly in 1961. That was shortly after Fidel Castro came to power and struck down all independent thinking in the island. Of course, La Tremenda Corte was all about going your own way (& then answering for it), and a satire on the grand scale of life in general. So the great comics were forced to escape for their lives to Miami, where much to my delight they staged some live performances (one of which my father was only too happy to take me to). That was the last & only time I saw them perform on stage in front of me.
[Apocryphally, Leopoldo Fernández is said to have made a short comic piece in his La Habana theater where he played “Pototo” while he and another actor reviewed a file of Cuban presidents' photos to install them on the wall. The other player showed a photo of Fulgencio Batista and Fernández said to him: “Throw this one away.” The other actor continued showing different pictures to Pototo's unchanging reply: – “Throw this one away too…” Finally, the assistant grabbed a photo of Fidel Castro. Leopoldo watched it, showed it to the audience and went to the wall as he said with his characteristic ironic humor: – “Allow me — I want to hang this one myself…”. And that was the end of Pototo y Filomeno inside Cuba.]
La Tremenda Corte continued to be 'made' in this or that form, but without the great Cástor Vispo scripts & direction, it was a shadow of its former self. And then even without the old comics Pototo y Filomeno.
In the 1990s the son of one of my first cousins swam to his freedom to the Guantanamo naval base, believe it or not, and came to stay with us for a while. One day, in order to offer him some entertainment I played some of my Pototo y Filomeno recordings for him and to my astonishment he told me he had NEVER heard of them before! That was the complete mind control Castro had instituted over the Cubans still in the island. To this day I do not know whether Cubans in the island are aware or not of one of their greatest glories.
Ironically, as the memory of that reprehensible murderer, Fidel Castro, continues to fade (as the fitting judgment of history) into just condemnation and deserved oblivion, it is Pototo y Filomeno who have emerged victorious and vindicated, and more famous than ever: There is not a single Spanish-speaking city in the world which does not have its own daily re-broadcast of the now ancient La Tremenda Corte's few surviving episodes... every single one of them still as human and hilarious as the day they were recorded live in their La Habana radio studio.
In the 1940s and 1950s Pototo y Filomeno joined with the musical group "Melodias del 40" to put out a series of tremendously popular records displaying not only their comedic but also their great musical talents as well: I still remember walking the streets of my birth city (Holguin) and listening to radios blaring these melodies in block after block I walked through. These are the recordings posted here.